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Petra Collins: An Idol

In exploring public figures in the media, I decided to veer away from the pop icons and into some, perhaps more obscure, artists. For this reason, I’ve decided to explore the wonder that is Petra Collins. I was first made aware of Petra Collins by a friend who went to one of her exhibits in the city. For those of you who are yet unaware of who Petra Collins is, she is a Canadian photographer and fashion designer. The exhibit was titled “Pussy Pat” and Petra Collins released a short blurb about what the exhibit represents:

“With Pussy Pat Power, we are claiming our presence online as our own. The act of the Pussy Pat signifies a departure from our male dominated image to one that is exclusively our own. Much like masturbation the Pat is an act we do to ourselves, for ourselves. Essentially the Pussy Pat is a salute to our sisters." -- Petra Collins

Some of those who are not versed with her work may have inadvertently run into some of it as one of her recent collaborations has garnered quite a bit of controversy. Essentially, Petra Collins collaborated with American Apparel in order to create a shirt that made a rather bold statement. The shirt is a line drawing of a menstruating, masturbating woman. As with anything that remotely challenges society’s norms of femininity, the shirt was met with an uproar of disgust. I myself was shocked upon first glancing at the shirt’s design as it’s really not a common sight nowadays. Time published an article on their website about the t-shirt, hailing Collins for her boldness. If one continues reading, however, the comments are rather unsupportive of her overall intent; in fact, almost all of them are disgusted by the whole thing. There was a comment that basically stated that if men were to replicate this act of empowerment, it would be considered as disgusting. It’s hard to say what part of the graphic tee offended people more, the masturbation, or the menstrual blood. When I think of the menstrual blood, it makes me think of something written by Gloria Steinem called, “If Men Could Menstruate” which basically states that if men were the ones to menstruate, it would be considered a glorious thing to menstruate. Men could be proud of it, show it off; as opposed to the way women have to hide it.

As I read up on why exactly Petra Collins decided to make this design one available to the public through American Apparel, I began to realize why I was uncomfortable at first with the image on the shirt. Collins made a really valid point that women are conditioned at a very young age to hide away some of the aspects of femininity that are in any way unfavorable to the male gaze. Women are expected to fill a very narrow role in society. Consider this image as a representation of just how much women have to conform:


This image accurately depicts how much expectation is placed on women to fill a certain role. It makes me think of a Tumblr post that I stumbled upon a while ago, (that actually sparked my interest in feminism online) that really speaks to just how twisted the patriarchal expectation of women truly is. Sandra Lee Bartky, who is a professor of philosophy and gender studies at University of Illinois, Chicago, wrote the post. It reads:

Under the current ‘tyranny of slenderness’ women are forbidden to become large or massive; they must take up as little space as possible. The very contours of a woman’s body takes on as she matures - the fuller breasts and rounded hips - have become distasteful. The body by which a woman feels herself judged and which by rigorous discipline she must try to assume is the body of early adolescence, slight and unformed, a body lacking flesh or substance, a body in whose very contours the image of immaturity has been inscribed. The requirement that a woman maintain a smooth and hairless skin carries further the theme of inexperience, for an infantilized face must accompany her infantilized body, a face that never ages or furrows its brow in thought. The face of the ideally feminine woman must never display the marks of character, wisdom, and experience that we so admire in men. (x

It’s perhaps an extreme interpretation of what it means to be a woman today, but I find it to be so true and so eye opening. The want to be skinny or hairless is absolutely all right for any woman, but the expectation that they should be is what is born out of a constant immersion in a society that is dripping with patriarchal ideals. These are the sorts of things that make me second-guess why it is I am doing something. I think that the fact that Petra Collins’ art and public image sparks this sort of thought process in me, is a true testament to her success in challenging the patriarchy. If everyone can learn to think critically about the societal norms they follow every single day, then change is something that is very possible.

What is wonderful is that Collins is bringing light to this almost unspoken expectation and contesting that fact through her very lifestyle. In fact, Collins has had a recent scuff with Instagram over something rather trivial and very patriarchal. Collins had uploaded a picture of herself from the waist down wearing a bathing suit bottom. Shortly after she uploaded the image, Instagram deleted her account. The picture itself was not in any way in violation of the terms and conditions of Instagram; however, due to the negative response the picture garnered, and the countless reports of her profile, Instagram took it down. The reason for this is simply because in the image, Collins’ bikini in unshaven. Collins’ actually took to Huffington Post to discuss what exactly happened and what it means on a larger scale. Essentially, Collins’ takes a jab at societal norms, urging people to reconsider their automatic prejudices.

As an individual, Petra Collins is doing plenty to further feminist ideals through several different mediums. As an added bonus, Collins’ founded an all-female art collective that encourages women to put their work out there. Collins has proven to be an avid member of the feminist community and I personally think she’s doing a really wonderful job of forcing people to reconsider their preconceived notions of femininity and to start thinking of women more as equals, rather than dainty, innocent, porcelain dolls.


This is Serena, signing off.

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#1 POSTED BY Wade Wallerstein, 04/29 5:02 PM

First of all, let me just say that I LOVE Petra and all of her work. What I love about her art is that it is quite radical, pushing boundaries and societal norms, but is not overly obnoxious. Her art is interesting, captivating, and engaging while also serving the feminist cause. I remember reading that interview where she describes the Pussy Pat — what an awesome notion. Finally a girly girl in the fashion world who isn't afraid to talk about masturbation! Petra Collins is also near and dear to my heart because she is indeed a microcelebrity. Her first rise to widespread recognition was through her connectivity with Tavi Gevinson and her command of blogging platforms and social media. Her image is very specific and very carefully crafted. Like Tavi, the persona that she has created and the persona surrounding it are well-developed and authentic. Ultimately, I think it is this authenticity that seems to radiate out from Collins' every web post that makes me like her so much. Great article! You really went in depth.

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